The therapeutic use of doll therapy for people with dementia: A systematic review of the literature

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


Introduction: The use of non-pharmacological treatments for people with dementia is rising as evidenced in reality orientation, reminiscence therapy, aromatherapy and music therapy (Holt et al, 2009; Vink et al, 2011 and Woods et al, 2012). There are a number of interventions available to assist health professionals and carers with non-pharmacological treatment for people with dementia but not all of these appear to be as rigorously researched as the examples above. The therapeutic use of dolls for people with dementia is one such therapy that has limited empirical evidence, but is appearing to be increasingly used in clinical practice (Stephens et al, 2012). Despite its increase in clinical practice, there have been few empirical studies conducted and as yet no published systematic literature review on its practice.

Results of Review: There were limited empirical findings pertaining to the therapeutic use of doll therapy for people with dementia. Almost all of the studies reviewed commended the use of doll therapy for people with dementia. Some authors asserted that engagement with a doll could lead to an improvement of mood, a greater dietary intake, a sense of security and reduced levels of distress for a person with dementia. Despite this cause for optimism a number of challenges were identified. These included differences in the type of doll used and how to assess if a person with dementia would benefit from use of a therapeutic doll.

Discussion: The theoretical basis of doll therapy is complex and arises from the work of John Bowlby’s attachment theory (1969). Despite its importance there was limited reference to this in the vast majority of the literature. As well as this there was limited consideration given to the obvious ethical dilemma of providing a doll to a person with dementia which some believe can infantilize people with dementia (Kitwood, 1997 and Mitchell and O’Donnell 2013).

Conclusion: Any therapeutic avenue that improves the wellbeing of a person with dementia is of great value and importance to clinical practice. Doll therapy, however, requires close scrutiny and it should be approached with some caution as its practice is still in its infancy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2013
Event23rd Alzheimer Europe Conference: Living Well in a dementia friendly society - Hilton Hotel, St Julian's, St Julian's, Malta
Duration: 10 Oct 201212 Oct 2012


Conference23rd Alzheimer Europe Conference
CitySt Julian's
Internet address


  • Dementia
  • Doll Therapy
  • Literature Review
  • Human Rights
  • Dignity
  • Ethics
  • Non-Pharmacological Intervention


Dive into the research topics of 'The therapeutic use of doll therapy for people with dementia: A systematic review of the literature'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this